Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Baptismal Regeneration: A Continued Response to John MacArthur

On today's program I continued my discussion of John MacArthur's lectures on baptism. I spent the majority of the discussion demonstrating why MacArthur's arguments about the meaning and purpose of baptism have no exegetical grounding.

Here's the program.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Response to John MacArthur on Infant Baptism

On today's program I discussed a John MacArthur message on the subject of baptism. In this lecture, MacArthur argues against infant baptism and baptismal regeneration. I demonstrate that MacArthur's arguments are historically and exegetically flawed. I mentioned a blog post on this subject. It can be found here. Thanks to Charles Wiese for a thoughtful post.

Here is the program.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Interview With Pastor Douglas Wilson

On today's program I interviewed Pastor Douglas Wilson about the Federal Vision movement within Reformed theology. Wilson is pastor of Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho and professor at New Saint Andrews College. He is a prolific speaker and debater on Reformed theology and various issues related to Christianity and culture. We talked about baptism, law and gospel, liturgy, and various other issues associated with the Federal Vision.

Here is the program.

Pastor Wilson's website can be found here, and his blog is here.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Does the Bible Support Polygamy?

Responding to arguments against Biblical sexuality. Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4

Claim: The Bible defines marriage as one-man-many-women, one man many wives and concubines, a rapist and his victim, and conquering soldier & female prisoner of war.

The argument made here is that the claim that marriage consists in a union of one man and one woman is false according to the Bible, because the Old Testament had different types of marriages displayed, such as polygamous marriage. Thus, marriage and Scripture is somewhat arbitrary. I would argue against this claim, that there is an ideal form of marriage described in Scripture as a creational institution, which does indeed involve one man and one woman. To gain a picture of what marriage is, one must go back to he first chapters of Genesis, which show marriage in the pre-fall state of humankind, and thus shows marriage's ideal form:

"Then the Lord God said, 'It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.' Now out of the ground the Lord God had formed every beast of the field and every bird of the heavens and brought them to the man to see what he would call them. And whatever the man called every living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,

'This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called Woman,
because she was taken out of Man.'
Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." (Genesis 2:18-24)

This narrative shows that marriage existed even before the fall. It is thus even more foundational than government and other human institutions, as government was instituted only as a result of sin. Marriage is the very foundation of human culture, and thus must be guarded closely. There is no hint in this text of anything like either polygamous or homosexual marriage, but marriage is simply the union of one man and one woman. Together they would work together to raise a family and take care of the earth. Jesus affirms this creational order in Matthew 19:

"And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, 'Is it lawful to divorce one's wife for any cause?” He answered, 'Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.' They said to him, 'Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?' He said to them, 'Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.'" (Matthew 19:3-12)

Contrary to the popular belief that Jesus had nothing to say about homosexuality, Jesus did in fact reaffirm the creational order of one and one woman as explained in the book of Genesis. Another important thing to note in this text is that Jesus distinguishes between what is right and good in marriage, and what was allowed due to the sinfulness of the people. Moses allowed for divorce as a result of human sin; this was not the ideal situation for the people to be in, and it did not ultimately excuse the sin of divorce and adultery. This demonstrates that there is not an exact equation between what God's people did in the Old Testament, and what God actually desired them to do. Yes, there was rampant polygamy in the ancient world, even in Israel. This was especially true in the kingly office. This is, however, contrary to the command in Deuteronomy that "he [the king] should not acquire many wives for himself." (Deuteronomy 17:17) That fact that kings, such as Solomon who acquired many wives and concubines, doesn't say anything about God's will for marriage, but only about the abuse of this institution by sinful human creatures.

There is also a continual refrain in the New Testament, regarding leaders in the church, that men should the husband of one wife (1 Timothy 3:2 for example), disallowing polygamous marriage. Though this text is specifically referring to the leadership of the church, it defines that which ultimately should be the ideal state for every Christian.

The claim made here that Scripture does not define marriage as one man and one woman in a loving relationship is simply false. All that can be demonstrated is that humans have distorted God's institution of marriage, even since the Old Testament. Rather than showing that we can further corrupt marriage, this should cause us to be even more careful not to fall into false views of the divine institution.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

The Active Obedience of Christ

The doctrine of the active obedience of Christ has come under attack in various quarters in the contemporary church. In Presbyterian churches, it has been questioned by some in the Federal Vision movement; in New Testament scholarship, the New Perspective on Paul has argued that this doctrine has no foundation in the Pauline text; in Baptist theology, it is denied by the "New Covenant Theology" movement as well as certain forms of dispensationalism; in Lutheran churches, it has been rejected by Gerhard Forde, who proposes that any contention of the imputation of Christ's active obedience is based on a merit scheme foreign to the theology of Luther. Because of these challenges, it's a necessary question for the modern theologian to ask: is there validity to the teaching of Christ's active obedience?

Hoenecke describes the traditional Lutheran approach to active obedience writing, "So then, according to Scripture, that through which Jesus furnished satisfaction is his entire obedience (obedientia vicaria universalis), which is partly a doing (obedientia activa), namely, fulfilling the law, partly a suffering (obedientia passiva), namely, enduring the wrath deserved by us." (ELD III, 185) The believer is justified through faith by the imputation of Christ's obedience. This includes his active fulfillment of the Law which is counted to us, along with his death by which the Law's penalty has been paid. Certain evangelicals, like Robert Gundry, have argued that the second part of this is correct, but there is no Biblical basis for the imputation of Christ's active obedience.

I think what is needed is a balanced approach to this issue, with a frank admission that the active obedience of Christ is not as Biblically apparent as we have proposed that it is. In Reformed circles, I often heard the active obedience of Christ equated with the gospel itself. Look for example at this explanation of the gospel from D. James Kennedy where he equates the gospel with the imputation of Christ's perfect life. You have broken the Law. Christ obeyed the Law perfectly. Through faith, his obedience becomes yours. While I don't reject such a statement, as I think it can be demonstrated to be in line with Biblical revelation, this is not the way that the Apostle's spoke of the gospel. Rather than the active obedience of Christ under the Law, the central message for Paul, Peter, and John was the death of Christ, and his resurrection. Look for example at Romans 5,

"Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 5:18-21)

This has often been used as a text to defend the concept of Christ's active obedience, due to the contrast between the disobedience of Adam and the obedience of Christ. However, note that what is contrasted here is "one trespass," and "one act of righteousness." While some interpreters (John Piper and Robert Reymond for example) argue that "one act" can in fact refer to Christ's full life of obedience, the more obvious interpretation is that Paul is indeed speaking of one righteous act of Jesus. It is more likely that this "one act" spoken of by Paul is the cross, because earlier in that same chapter Paul writes that we are "justified by his blood."(Romans 5:9) Because Paul is following an extensive discussion of the cross with this "one act," they are likely the same event.

There really is no explicit statement in the epistle to the Romans that Christ's active obedience is in any sense imputed to the Christian for righteousness. This is odd, since Romans is Paul's most detailed discussion of the doctrine of justification. Pauline interpreters are right, due to this fact, to question the centrality of this idea in Paul's thought. It is unfortunate fact of history that the concept of active obedience has often eclipsed that which Paul does connect to justification more clearly: the resurrection. In Romans 4, in the midst of Paul's most detailed discussion of justification, he writes that Christ "was delivered for our trespasses and raised for our justification."(Romans 4:25) While I could give numerous examples of sermons I have heard which emphasize Christ's active obedience as essential to justification, I could probably count on one hand the number of times I have heard the resurrection connected with justification in any sense. This is where I think a lot of the contemporary challenges to the traditional approach to Christ's active obedience are insightful. N.T. Wright, some of the Federal Vision writers, and others have sought to place the resurrection back in a central position.

So my primary concern here is not with the doctrine of the imputation of Christ's active obedience itself, because I think its validity can be demonstrated, but with the centrality of this theme. In Paul's mind, Christ's righteousness most certainly is imputed through faith alone. One has faith, grasps Christ, and his righteousness becomes the believer's in justification. However, this righteousness, in Romans, is connected with Christ's death and resurrection. That isn't to say that Paul doesn't also have the active obedience of Christ under the Law in mind, but it isn't explicit.

Another major problem I have with equating the active obedience of Christ with the gospel (I have talked to some people who argue that a belief in the active obedience of Christ is necessary for one's salvation) is that this concept isn't present in the early church, or (at least not explicitly) in the writings of Luther. The fathers certainly thought that Christ's life was important. Jesus needed to live a sinless life, and needed to become an adult so that humanity could be recapitulated in his person, but there isn't any talk of the imputation of Christ's active obedience to the Law. To equate active obedience with the gospel is to say that the fathers didn't understand the gospel. I don't see how one can genuinely propose this. I also don't see the doctrine in Luther's own writings. For Luther, Christ's righteousness is primarily connected to his death and resurrection. There are certain hints at the imputation of Christ's Law-keeping, but it isn't explicit and certainly is not Luther's central concern.

The Formula of Concord does confess the concept of Christ's active obedience:

"Therefore, his obedience consists not only in his suffering and death but also in the fact that he freely put himself in our place under the law and fulfilled the law with this obedience and reckoned it to us as righteousness. As a result of his total obedience-which he performed on our behalf for God in his deeds and suffering, in life and death-God forgives our sin, considers us upright and righteous, and grants us eternal salvation." (FC SD III.15)

The Lutheran fathers rightly placed this idea in the lengthy discussion of justification in Article III, but they didn't make it the central aspect of Christ's righteousness. There is much more space devoted, in the Confessions, to the death and resurrection of Christ than to his active obedience. If I were asked what Biblical precedent there is for the idea that Christ fulfilled the Law on behalf of humanity, there are a couple of texts I would point to which hint at this idea. Galatians 4 speaks of Christ as one who was "born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law." (Galatians 4:4-5) Christ was born under the Law for the sake of those who were under the Law, in order that the Law might be fulfilled in himself, and its penalty might be paid. Regarding Jesus' baptism, Matthew writes,"But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented." This points to the fact that Christ's righteousness consists not only in his death, but also certain aspects of his life. If we take these passages together, that Jesus life has something to do with his righteousness, and that it was necessary for Jesus to be born under the Law, and put these ideas together with the Biblical theme that the Law requires perfect obedience, it becomes apparent that Christ's righteousness consists partly in his obedience to the Law.

Since the Scriptural texts really aren't that strong on this theme, I think the best way to go about this idea is through the nature of Kingship. If you look at the Old Testament, and the way that Israel was treated under the covenant, it is apparent that the obedience/disobedience of any given king doesn't only affect the welfare of that individual king, but of the nation as a whole. The king is representative of the people. An obedient and righteous king causes God to bless Israel. An unrighteous king causes God to curse Israel. If Jesus is truly the fulfillment of the Davidic promise as the true son of David and eternal king of Israel, then it's a given that his righteousness plays a representative role. I think this is the context in which we can genuinely speak of the active obedience of Christ. I understand why we speak of the "merit of Christ" in this discussion, because of the medieval context in which these ideas were formulated, but maybe we would be better to speak of Christ's faithfulness, or his covenantal obedience, rather than the imputation of his active merit. That would point to the Old Testament roots of this concept, and might settle the fears of some that the idea of Christ's active obedience is grounded in Medieval scholasticism, rather than the Biblical narrative.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Federal Vision Movement

Listen Here.

On today's program I discussed the "Federal Vision" movement within Presbyterianism. I gave a brief history of the movement, and then explained some of their distinctive ideas. I showed where Lutherans can agree and disagree with various aspects of this theological school.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A Review of William W. Schumacher's "Who Do I Say That You Are?"

The most comprehensive critique of the Finnish school of Luther interpretation available in English is the volume of William Schumacher titled, Who Do I Say That You Are? Anthropology and the Theology of Theosis in the Finnish School of Tuomo Mannermaa. Arguing from an anthropological perspective, Schumacher argues that the Finnish school has misinterpreted Luther's theology, replacing Luther's theology of the word with an ontologically focused approach to the human person. For Schumacher's Luther it is God's word of address to the sinner, as a creative word, which has primacy. This is distinguished from Finnish writers who propose that the human creature is defined by ontological union with God.

For Schumacher, the traditional Lutheran approach to justification and Mannermaa's school are incompatible with one another. Justification is either theosis (Mannermaa) or forensic (the Book of Concord). Thus Mannermaa's approach to justification is essentially an attack on the entire Lutheran tradition after the Osiandrian controversy. Schumacher purports that the Finnish school is "if not a complete rehabilitation of Osiander, then at least the attempt to salvage key elements of his system which has been previously rejected by the Lutheranism of the Formula of Concord."(91) Schumacher points out that the Osiandrian error involved more than a denial of the unity of Christ's two natures, but also the prioritizing of the incarnation of Christ over his death and resurrection, leaving the cross in a subsidiary position. I think Schumacher's argument here is partially correct. There is an overemphasis in many of the Finnish writers on the incarnation, which makes salvation primarily an ontological reality, displacing the objective event of the cross. I don't think the solution to this problem is to reject ontological categories, and the soteriological significance of the incarnation as Schumacher does, but is to have a balanced approach to the soteriological significance of all events in Christ's life. In Lutheran soteriology (along with that of Paul), the cross is always the central salvific event. I think a more balanced approach would be to take the Finnish theology of incarnation, and place it within the context of the Formula's forensic emphasis. While the forensic elements of salvation may be primary, there are also strong ontological themes in Luther's thought which need not be neglected.

One of the problems with Schumacher's contention that the Finnish school is essentially Osiandrian is that he fails to discuss the primary problems with Osiander's theology according to the Formula of Concord. The Formula isn't condemning the concept of ontological union, or the importance of Christ's indwelling; rather, the Formula is seeking to clarify that the infusion of love and other virtues does not precede justification. In other words, the concern of the Formula is salvation by works, not the idea that Christ is present in faith. I think the problem here begins with the Finnish interpretation who conclude that the Formula is opposed to Luther. I don't think such a division exists. Luther places salvation in both juridical and participationist categories. The Formula focuses on the forensic elements (rightly so I think) because of the necessity of clarifying these issues in light of Osiander's teaching. This shouldn't be pitted against Luther's own theology, when Luther was willing to approve of Melancthon's writings on justification with primarily (at times exclusively) forensic language.

The most interesting chapter in Schumacher's work is in his evaluation of Luther's own writings. Schumacher rightly points out that the Finnish school tends to conflate the early and late Luther, ignoring the development of Luther's thought, especially his great Reformation discovery. It is somewhat surprising that one of the most significant passages for the Finnish school comes from a Christmas sermon in 1514, when Luther hadn't yet developed his mature understanding of justification. In some of the more extreme forms of the Finnish approach (Karkkainen for example), the Reformation discovery is almost completely ignored, and one wonders why the Medieval church would even have an issue with Luther's view of justification if this interpretation were correct. Here is where I think Schumacher paints with too broad a brush. While many in this school ignore the categories of imputation, and even sola fide, Mannermaa is careful to place these categories in the context of Luther's overall thought, though I do agree that he downplays their importance. This chapter demonstrates that some of the language used by the Finnish school doesn't mean what they claim in the context of Luther's own writings. However, I remain convinced of the central thesis of Mannermaa that Luther teaches that an ontological union with Christ is the metaphysical basis for God's gracious imputation. In otherwords, Christ is truly present in faith, giving himself to the Christian as righteousness, especially through the debt paid on the cross and Christ's victory over the devil according to both natures; this does not neglect the fact that the union of God and man in the incarnation is also a necessary part of the Christian's righteousness. (Regarding the so-called "active obedience" of Christ, I don't find this theme in Luther, though I personally do affirm its validity).

One of my primary areas of interest, especially as I dealt with this topic in my book The Righteousness of One: An Evaluation of Early Patristic Soteriology in Light of the New Perspective on Paul, is in the connection between Luther's theology and that of the Church fathers. Schumacher convincingly demonstrates that the influence of the Greek fathers on Luther has been overstated by the Finnish school. Luther's primary influences, rather, were Augustine, Ambrose, Jerome, Bernard, and the German mystical tradition. He correctly points out that deification language in Luther is taken from medieval mysticism, and is thus not identical with Eastern conceptions of theosis. I would point out, however, that there are many commonalities between the mystical tradition which Luther praises and the Eastern fathers. Whether the Eastern fathers had any significant influence on Bernard, Tauler, or the Theologia Germanica remains to be demonstrated, but one cannot help seeing certain common themes. The Theologia Germanica, for example, states: “God assumed human nature or humanity. He
became humanized and man became divinized. That is the way amends were made." (The Theologia Germanica of Martin Luther, 63) It seems unthinkable to me that Luther would promote and publish the Theologia Germanica and the works of Tauler throughout his life if he didn't agree with their conviction that salvation is in some sense an ontological event.

Schumacher's book is a fascinating read, and is essential to grapple with for any interested in this issue. Schumacher points out some of the genuine flaws in Finnish Luther research, which often lets an ecumenical agenda guide research, rather than letting the evidence speak for itself. However, in doing this, Shumacher swings too far in the other direction, ignoring the ontological soteriological concepts that are prominent in such works as "On Christian Liberty", "Two Kinds of Righteousness", and the 1535 Galatians commentary. The fact that Luther could promote both Melancthon's works which deal almost exclusively in legal categories, and the Theologia Germanica which deals almost exclusively in ontological categories should show us that both sides in this debate have often set up a false dichotomy which was foreign to Luther.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

A Review of "Inhabiting the Cruciform God" by Michael J. Gorman

Michael J. Gorman's work Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul's Narrative Soteriology, is one in a number of works seeking to reinterpret Paul's theology. Rather than defending traditional Pauline interpretation, or getting on the New Perspective bandwagon, Gorman offers a proposal that transcends other interpretive grids.

For Gorman, the center of Pauline thought is not to be found in forensic justification (Luther), nor is it to be found in the concept of covenant community (Wright). Rather, "theosis is the center of Paul's theology." (171) Theosis, for Gorman, is a thoroughly Christological reality, and can be called "Christification." Gorman's concept of theosis shares similarities with the Eastern Orthodox approach, but is not synonymous. For Gorman, theosis is primarily cruciformity. God's nature is cruciform, and thus theosis is living the cruciform life, mirroring God's self giving love. Gorman proposes that the Carmen Christi of Philippians 2:6-11 is Paul's "master story." This text serves as a lens through which Paul's theology is to be read. Gorman argues, convincingly I think, that the phrase "although he was in the form of God" can be read "because he was in the form of God." In other words, the incarnation is not contrary to God's normal manner of acting, but is thoroughly consistent with God's character. In fact, it is the ultimate revelation of God's character. Thus, in contrast to human perceptions of divinity which are linked with political power, God's power in shown in weakness. It is of God's essence and character to be self-giving. In Gorman's words, "divinity has kenotic servanthood as its essential attribute."(31)

There is a redefinition of the term "Justification" in Gorman's writing. For Gorman, justification is not a purely forensic reality, but is thoroughly participatory. Trying to overcome the division common in Pauline studies between juridical and participationist soteriology, Gorman contends that "Paul has not two soteriological models (juridical and participationist) but one, justification by co-crucifixion, meaning restoration to right covenantal relations with God and others by participation in Christ's quintessential covenantal act of faith and love on the cross."(45) Justification is a covenantal category, and it involves participation in Christ's death and resurrection. The believer, through faith, is incorporated into Christ and is "co-crucified" with Jesus. Through this crucifixion, covenantal relations are restored. This involves both the restoration of one's relationship with God, and the restoration of the relationship one has with fellow man. Gorman discusses Galatians 2, in which Paul connects justification with participation in Christ's death. This causes Gorman to conclude that "Justification by faith, then, is a death-and-resurrection experience."(69)

The exegesis that Gorman provides is challenging, and does point to a connection between justification and the death and resurrection of the believer. However, it is not entirely convincing. Gorman contends that justification is not a judicial term, and does so through the text in Galatians 2. However, he does not spend time exegeting various texts which would seem to put this idea into doubt. For example, Romans 8:33-34 is a text that has been used since the Reformation to defend a legal reading of justification. Paul writes, "Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn?" In this text, Paul contrasts justification with condemnation; the assumption is that both are legal terms that can be contrasted with one another. Because of justification, no charge can be brought against the believer. A detailed exegesis of this text would have to be done for Gorman's thesis to hold, which would demonstrate that Paul is not using legal categories here. Another text, which Gorman mentions only in passing, is Romans 4:4-5. "Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness." The contrast between faith and works, as well as the language of crediting in contrast to earning, point to a thoroughly Reformational understanding of justification. This text simply doesn't fit many of the contemporary readings of Paul. It is usually passed over without a lengthy discussion.

It's my contention that Gorman is correct about a number of points in this work. First, it is part of God's nature to be self-giving. In contrast to the Reformed conviction that God's own glory is his ultimate concern, Paul would agree with Luther that salvation through self-donation is God's "proper work." Gorman has also demonstrated that there is a closer connection in Paul's theology between justification and participation in Christ, specifically in his death and resurrection, than many Pauline interpreters have been willing to allow. Justification does involve a death and resurrection as Gorman contends. However, I don't think there are grounds for simply dismissing the traditional forensic approach to justification in Paul. This is especially clear in Romans 4:4-5 and 8:33-34, but can also be demonstrated elsewhere in his epistles. I contend that justification includes legal and participationist categories. When justified, the believer is imputed righteous by the righteousness of Christ. However, in light of Paul's participationist theology, this justification also involves a death and resurrection of the sinner through mystical union with Chist's life, death, and resurrection.

Gorman's work is challenging, and is refreshing in that he avoids many of the typical false dichotomies presented in contemporary Pauline scholarship. However, like much of the New Perspective, Gorman's work ultimately privileges certain aspects of Pauline thought over others, and ultimately misses the Reformation's understanding of Paul, which I still believe (unpopular as it may be) to be exegetically warranted.